It is no big secret that the Bengals have historically had trouble winning on the West Coast. Many teams struggle when playing 3 time zones from home. That is why Sunday’s game in San Diego will be a great gauge to test the mettle of this team.
I put a sizable dent in my forehead when I read this quote from Andrew Whitworth explaining this season’s four-game skid: “We feel like the streak we had in the middle of the season is purely and solely because we felt too good about ourselves and relaxed.” How does a team with this franchise’s history get so full of themselves that they can just assume wins? It isn’t the first time that has happened under Marvin’s watch. It nearly cost them the season. (It still could.)
But with their backs to the wall, the boys have responded with three dominating performances in a row. It doesn’t matter if two of them were against flat-out bad teams because they did what post-season contenders are supposed to do when cupcakes come up on the schedule… they hammered their opponent until they laid down.
Now comes a game that requires focus and mental toughness. Load road trips, for whatever reason, are difficult on many teams. And the Bengals face a talented-but-struggling opponent who need a win to salvage their self-respect, let alone their season. With three blowout wins, will this team get over-confident and relax again? Or will they maintain a healthy level of confidence while remembering that just might leapfrog Pittsburgh into 2nd in the AFCN with a win?
The Chargers’ offensive line ranks 27th in the league, meaning that we ought to see Atkins, Johnson and Dunlap getting pressure on Rivers while Peko and Sims stuff their 25th-ranked running game. The Chargers’ do feature a good run-blocking defense (tied with Pittsburgh for 5th in the league), which means we should see plenty of A.J. Green early to exploit the weaker secondary and open up lanes for BJGE and Peerman.
With the Bengals outperforming the Chargers in just about every category — especially lately — a loss will very likely tell me that they did relax. And that Marvin just might not be the man to get this team to the next level.
Honestly, however, I don’t expect that to happen. I see a team that is coming together to play complete games on all phases, and that like playing together. I see a team that knows that they haven’t left themselves much margin for error. And I see a team that is getting hot at the right time to do something in the playofffs… and knows it.
Sunday’s tilt in San Diego will be just the test to tell me if I’m right.